The Other, Other, Other, Other White Meat

Full Disclosure:  I have been a vegetarian for fifteen years

Some people write letters to the editor when they read a story they don’t like.   And some of those people anxiously open up the paper for days hoping to see their brilliance in newsprint.  And then when they don’t, they pull up their blog and write a post.

So consider this a preemptive move on my part in response to the New York Times Dining section cover story today, “Don’t Tell the Kids.”

To quote: “Some may feel squeamish about eating it, but rabbit has a fan base that is growing as cooks discover how good the meat tastes.”

Oh yeah, well, how do those chefs or super fans know that cat doesn’t taste amazing, sauteed in a little white wine & garlic, or that a beagle’s hind quarters fry up just right in vegetable oil and served with hush puppies (irony for effect)  make the perfect companion to a hearty Zinfandel?

By framing this story with a cute title then jumping right in to a group of Brooklyn hipsters (does anyone else wish the whole borough would be taken back – preferably with force –  by the  poor immigrants that founded it?) with their carving knives in “Abercrombie & Fitch bags” and catch phrase desires for small, family farming, the article tries hard to foster debate.

But what they really want to say is, rabbit tastes good.  So what?

Don’t tell the children.  Why?  Will their crying drown out the moans of culinary ecstasy?  Will their incessant questions about eating a cute, furry creature add just a dash of buzzkill to the roadkill?

I’ll ask my first question again.  If rabbit’s are fair game (pun intended) why not cats and dogs?  Some cultures eat them while the average American identifies them as savages.  And you can’t tell me it won’t taste as good as Filet Mignon.  You don’t know.  How about whipping up a bowl of Hamster nuggets for that next dinner party?  It might be sublime.

(Jumping down off soapbox)

Truth is, I’m a hypocritical vegetarian.  My kids eat meat, my dog and cat eat meat and I’ve often joked that the cuter the animal the more likely my wife will eat it.  I’ve previously looked down on those who made their children into mini-me’s, mirroring their habits and politics like the little sponges they can be.  But now, I’m beginning to appreciate the mindset of Jonathan Safran Foer even more.  Parenthood changed his view on how his children should be fed.  They’re pretty young so perhaps he’s not showing them the picture or reading them the piece in the Times today.  But I think I’m going to show it to mine.

For in the immortal words of Elmer Fudd, if it’s “Wabbit Season” it may be time for me to make like Bugs.

“Of course you realize this means war.”

Published in: on March 3, 2010 at 3:32 pm  Comments (2)  

The Blind Side

There’s an old Hollywood adage, famously coined by screenwriter William Goldman that when it comes to predicting which movies will succeed and which will fail, “Nobody Knows Anything.”  To wit:  Columbia Pictures passed on the chance to produce “Star Wars”, leaving the plucky sci-fi movie to Fox, thereby losing out on billions of dollars in revenue.  They did however say yes to “Close Encounters” which earned them about the same amount of money (at the time) while it was 20th Century Fox that said no to Spielberg’s masterpiece.

Even more telling is that in asking studio executives of the era about their choices, they commented that if they’d said “yes” to everything they said “no” to and vice versa, they’d have pretty much ended up in the same place.  Put another way you can’t over or under-estimate the public when it comes to what they like.  They just do.

This proved to be true the other night at a dinner party where we did a blind tasting of various wines.  Now I’ve been an advocate of blind tastings many times before and while part of me still believes it’s the only fair way to gauge a wine, I’m now second guessing that in favor of Mr. Goldman’s assessment.  That when it comes to the evaluation of any subjective thing, the only person who does know anything is you.

There’s no need to get into the details of the tasting but I will tell you that the wine I brought – I wine I was a fan of and still am –  a Pinot from New Zealand called, Latitude 41 scored the lowest of seven wines (I had it as my third worse) or that a 2007 CA Cab from Jam Cellars was far and away everyone’s favorite.

What really struck me was that in looking at the scores of the individual wines, the loser I brought was scored (on the ubiquitous 100 pt. scale) by one person as 100 and by another as 1.  Holy swing, Batman!

And it was then and there, in a suburban kitchen, that I realized all this hand-wringing over scores/reviews of anything that isn’t decided by a clock or a scoreboard is a wasted exercise; whether you are trying to evaluate a wine, a building by I.M. Pei or a Hollywood movie, nobody does know anything.  And anyone who leaves their own choices to someone else is missing out on one of the true pleasures of freedom, the ability to do so for oneself.  I know too many people who won’t buy a wine that scores under a 90 (and I bet you do too) or takes the word of (fill in wine reviewer’s name here) as gospel.

I now realize, more than ever, the best wines in the world, the ones that get my 100 points, are the ones I like.  And that makes any number of wines I drink better than anything you drink no matter what’s on the label, who scored it or what its provenance.

The Founders envisioned a world of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  So from now on I suggest you embrace the things you like, be it a no name $6.00 wine from Slovenia or a nonsensical movie set in 2154 where science has made it possible to telekinetically leap into the body of a blue alien but the weapon of choice is still a bullet.

At the end of the day, no one knows anything but you.

Published in: on February 24, 2010 at 10:43 am  Comments (6)  

Don’t Know Much About a Science Book…

As a work at home dad, the daily grind of my kid’s homework falls on me.  This was a fairly easy task in kindergarten, first and even second grade.  Now though, as third has kicked in, more and more I’m realizing that I can’t help.

Oh, I’ll sit and try and figure out that if Mary has forty-eight strawberries and thirty-six oranges and gives two of each to her classmates, how many will each girl receive.  And I thought I used to know that if you were adding an apostrophe to the end of “children” to signify possession it was children’s (or is it childrens’).  But the truth is I don’t remember and have generally left it up to my son whether it’s correct or not.  He’s usually right.

But it brings up the age old question, one that can only be contemplated by adults in the work force, just how much of this elementary learning will be truly useful to our kids in the next decade of their lives?  As I go about my everyday to do list, math is handled by computer programs that calculate anything I need, be it inventory management or sales tax in Texas.  Grammar check assists me when I say “their” but meant “they’re” and frankly, the only bits of my education that can be used in my winery life is, well, if I think of something I’ll get back to you.

I often joke that the only people who really need higher education are doctors and lawyers and most of us find ourselves in  other fields by the time our parents kick us out – the first or second time – to “get a job.”

Certainly I’m not advocating the end of the education system as we know it – though many would argue it’s already dead and buried.  But ask my sons what they want to be when they grow up and as of right now it’s a hockey and soccer player respectively.  What did I want to be?  A movie director.  Instead I found myself running a software company and now a winery.  And of all the great people I’ve worked alongside and continue to share my day with, not one of them used GPS to get there.  Meaning we all find our path eventually.

The wine business has traditionally been a family affair.  Maybe there is something profound in wine’s simplicity, a je ne sais qua, that coupled with an inability to understand the square root of Pi, draws the offspring back to the nest.

So, do I secretly hope my kids end up alongside me with their “virtual” laptops (or whatever Apple has in store for us by 2020) ready to release the new vintages?  Yeah, I kind of do.

It’s way too quiet without them here during the day.  So much so that I can’t wait to do homework…

Published in: on February 16, 2010 at 2:22 pm  Comments (1)  

LA Story

A few years back, after I had found some minimal success placing wine in a few local accounts, Ryan flew down to LA to help open the market up further.  This strategy had been employed in about half a dozen other cities to unqualified success.  So I was excited to have some places in the city I now call home that poured our wines.  For if the people of Texas or Michigan  loved them, surely the cultured of Southern California would too.

We spent the day with a small distributor, visiting hip wine spots in Silverlake, Hollywood and its western neighbor among others, sharing wine with restaurateurs & shop managers who knew their boutique wines.  And they were well received.  I didn’t expect to see orders by the pallet but…

Sales tally:  Zero

So what was it about Los Angeles that turned them off to our wines?  Were they protecting our fragile feelings?  Did their books already have fifteen Cabs just like ours?  Or can it simply be chalked up to a lack of follow up by the distributor?  Whatever the case we gave up the big city dreams and have focused on building our brands in markets that are every bit as cosmopolitan as LA, if a bit less trend of the moment-centric.

And then I received an unsolicited e-mail from a new husband and wife team hoping to bring some small production wines into LA.

You might think my first thought was to hit delete.  It wasn’t.  Maybe I’m a glutton for disappointment, perhaps like Steve Martin in LA Story I want to be told we don’t belong with the hipper, score friendly wines that populate the wine lists of my favorite restaurants.  Or maybe like a character in another movie, every time we try to get out, they keep pulling us back in.

But the more I think about it, I’d like to begin 2010 hopeful our LA fortunes could change.    If we don’t try, we may regret it, maybe not today or tomorrow but someday.  And if all else fails…

…we’ll always have Houston.

Published in: on January 21, 2010 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

The Godfather (of wine)

I suppose after a two month absence from blogging this space probably resembles Love Canal but I’m back and mediocre as ever.

As usual, I wish I had some better reason for being away, like my wife and supermodel mistress surprised me with a trip to Italy – just the three of us –  and we spent the fall drinking wine, helping with the harvest in Multipulciano and I’ve just returned tanned, well fed and tired.

But surely you all (and by you all, I mean just you) know this is not true.  What is fact is that life is busy, work is busy and if our fall sales are any indicator, the wine economy is slowly getting back on track.  And that’s good enough reason for me to have been away from the blogosphere.

I’ve not been without things to write about though.  I started a post about a local wine bar that used to suck and has now made a refreshing comeback, we had our annual customer party in September proving that the hard work of reaching out to your customers in order to build your brand is more powerful than any reviewers score, and I just got back from Asia, where we plan to launch a new wine in the next few months (more on that in a future posting – I hope).

The thing that I decided to lead with as my first post “back” however has to do with a subject I’ve touched upon before, the fact that I’m in the alcohol business and have young children.  That there’s is a certain stigma (deservedly so, if I must be honest) when it comes to sharing my career at school if it comes up.   It’s not as bad as if I say, worked for RJ Reynolds but it might be worse than if I worked for Hughes making missile guidance systems that are used to kill innocent people in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Or is this all too melodramatic? I wouldn’t have thought so but my last interaction with a teacher at school made me feel that I was a member of the Gambino crime family and not a laid back winery partner.

My older son is now a fellow blogger.  He’s proud of it, I’m proud of him, and I’m indebted to his teacher, who happens to have created an award winning classroom blog.  It’s great and has really given the kids in the class a head start on the world they will be inheriting technologically.  As parents we’ve been asked to participate by commenting on their posts and in a recent one I mentioned my job.  His teacher very kindly – and with a true bit of remorse – told me she could not use my post because I mentioned wine as she felt this was inappropriate for the class to consume (pun intended).

I understood her logic then and I understand it now.  And yet I’ve found myself coming back to our discussion wondering if my harmless comment really posed a problem for the class, a group who also have great parents, many of whom I’ve actually shared a glass of wine with.  Would they have minded?  Was the teacher heading off a possible comment from the principal?

My whole point is, I get it, I’m not upset.  But now I’m simply curious if other people – even in other “borderline” careers (drug company rep, “R” rated film producer, lawyer) have dealt with similar circumstances at their child’s school.

Lets open up this debate and get me some readers back!

Bada bing!

Published in: on December 1, 2009 at 5:08 pm  Leave a Comment  

I Scream as They Scream About Ice Cream

puppetTheatre_lrgSummer doesn’t officially end until September 22nd, but the end of the season for me is just over the horizon as the boys start school tomorrow.

Its been a nice couple of months filled with swimming, tennis camp, a trip to NYC and various other activities reserved for out of school pleasure.  This included an almost daily trip to a yogurt place in town called, Berrylicious though their name will be changing shortly as someone else called their shop the same name – kind of reminds me of that scene in Spinal Tap, where the band started out as The Originals, but then another band in the east end called themselves The Originals so Tap changed their name to The New Originals and then the other band changed their name to The Regulars.

Point being – sweet, frozen treats are synonymous with summer, but this charming vision of youth is being threatened by the usual collection of parental do gooders who would ban the neighborhood ice cream person because they are tempting their little angels with Bomb Pops, Dixie Cups and Nestle Crunch bars before dinner.

Picture a sparkling day in Brooklyn, in Chicago, in Cleveland, an urban park where children play and laugh.  And then, across the way, the colorful truck, the hypnotic, murderous jingle, the semi-trustable guy peering out at the kids waving a Sponge Bob ice cream bar with gumballs for eyes at their level.

Then see the carrot, apple slice, organic granola bar toting, Jessica Seinfeld discipled mom, powerless against the pull of history.  The meltdown ensues as does the inevitable call to the Public Works department to ban the ice cream truck from the park. Oh, it’s done under the ruse of eliminating unlicensed vehicles from the area but it’s really about control.  I’ll feed my kid the sugary stuff when I decide, not when you flash the lights.

Neither Ben or Jerry stands a chance against these confectionery crusaders when they set their mind to something.

Yes, we need to have an everything in moderation mantra for feeding our kids treats.  And yes, I’ve shielded my kids from the truck, walking out of my way where they heard the expletive laced trash talking coming from the public basketball courts, rather than the evil music emanating from Mr. Softee’s wheels.

But as the summer comes to a close, I look back on all the things I did when I was their age: left my house unannounced to walk or ride my bike, sometimes miles away, to see a friend.  Stayed out past dark playing stickball, or football, or hockey without a care in the world.  Even ran out as the Good Humor truck made its slow roll down my street, pre-dinner, with dollar in hand.

Those times are long gone, at least in all the places I’ve called home since my idyllic Long Island childhood ended.  That’s why I let the kids have ice cream after a long, hot summer day.

If you’re not going to eat it then…

Published in: on August 25, 2009 at 11:05 am  Leave a Comment  

Public Enemies

22-1177236732-1I suppose this is a post I could write each year at this time.  But upon reading today that the state of California thinks it can generate almost a billion and a half dollars a year by legalizing pot, it brings to the forefront how off kilter things are when it comes to the sale of wine.

For the past few weeks I’ve found myself waist deep in paperwork, renewing out of state permits and seeing my local notary public more than I see my wife.  And each year I do this, filling out line items, printing out reports, trying to follow incomprehensible instructions (all to cut checks that don’t exceed ten dollars in some cases), I realize we’re really no better off than we were in the 20’s when the sale of alcohol was just flat out illegal.

Don’t get me wrong, the states deserve to collect their taxes – I’m not against the paperwork, I’m against the mindset that has created it.

Back in my software days we used to joke, after dealing with some henious bug problem that couldn’t be fixed while people left threatening messages on our answering machine, that in our next business life we were going to sell plastic spoons.  An item so utterly boring and idiot proof to use, nothing could go wrong.

So what do I do?  I end up trafficking in the sale of a beverage that has created nightmares for those trying to sell it, buy it, enjoy it.

The questions are simple.  Shouldn’t a company selling a legal product be able to do so to a consenting adult in all 50 states without problem?  Without the need to find a distributor (I’ve never met) who can sell to someone (they’ve never met) who wants to buy from us after meeting us?

(If that sentence is confusing I guess it’s meant to be)

And all this would not seem so absurd, especially here in CA, where you can now walk into a store and buy pot for medicinal purposes of course, with little more than stooping over and pretending you have a back problem.   These stores are not the speakeasy’s of the new millenium mind you, with a black door topped by a sliding window where you are allowed entry only after giving the password (Maui Waui).  No, these are storefront locations with matching websites that have big juicy green buds on their home pages and offer free gifts (choose from one of several glass bongs or Grateful Dead records).

I’m all for the legalization of marijuana, for those who just want to enjoy it as some of us might enjoy a glass of Riesling at the end of a long day, and I certainly want to see it available to people who are simply looking to fight off the effects of endless rounds of chemotherapy.  If it works, it works.

So lets get an extra billion dollars into the state’s pockets by making pot legal.  But while we’re at it, can we please legalize wine too?

Published in: on July 16, 2009 at 9:17 am  Leave a Comment  

Party (Down)

RhodiumfingerprintWeddingBandsLet me state for the record that I am the most happily married man I know.

So why do I find myself cursing every time I sift through the Weddings Page in the Sunday Times?  Is it because the people who choose to acknowledge their nuptials there fall into very specific catergories:

1.  Ivy League Educated
2. Doctors, Lawyers, Hedge Funders or conversely, school teachers, museum curators, non-profiteers
3. Parents with important jobs (past or present)

Or is it because they are the same type of people to send with their holiday card a recounting of the past year’s successes like we – a.) care or b.) actually believe that anyone’s life could be so perfect.

I’ve often fanticized about sending our holiday card with a note saying something along the lines of:

“Eric and Linda did the best they could in 2009, what with the boys lagging so far behind in their reading skills, their lack of interest in anything besides video games, soda and Sugar Frosted Flakes and their basketball teams, which finished a combined 2-26 for the year.  Linda works long hours with little praise while Eric continues to beat himself up for not making more of his Fine Arts degree.”

But in the (un)real world, life for those getting married could not be better, with happy couples running down the aisle, albeit trying to be mindful of upsetting their poor friends by throwing subdued and understated receptions, ones that ironically cost more than the previously traditional shindig at Bacara.

Wedding food now, formerly caviar and truffle encrusted Kobe beef has now been recessioned to look like mini cheeseburgers and slumdog desserts like pie and cupcakes.  Said food is “passed from person to person”, while thirsty guests will have to pour their own wine, you know, like actual life.

But these same people, hoping to present such an austere picture for their guests can’t seem to contain themselves in telling reporters that such charades break the bank as well.  Don’t feel sorry for us they’ll whisper, we just want our friends to think we’re just like them.

My news flash to these insufferable souls is this, authenticity can’t be faked by some creative caterer or moonlighting production designer.  If you want to have a down home backyard wedding, have it at *your* backyard, with its overgrown grass and undergrown hillside (wait, that’s my backyard).  If cheeseburgers are what you’re after, have the mobile In-n-Out Truck showup in your driveway.  You get the idea…

Even though my wedding was in a magical setting at a fancy hotel with hundreds of guests in the bang-bang late 90’s, I can’t tell you anything about the food, the wine or the conversation.  There were only two people in the room that day – and I didn’t care if anyone else knew it or not.  That’s authentic.

Published in: on June 17, 2009 at 2:43 pm  Leave a Comment  

If You Build it…

20050301ap_trv_field_dreamsPJ01_580Many people’s favorite moment in the movie, Sideways (mine included), is the scene in which Miles gets word that his book has been rejected by the publisher he was hoping would champion it, thus relegating him to further anonymous status, something that goes along with all his other disappointments.

And while most people remember this scene for his chug of the spit bucket – hilarious and memorable  –  my take away was more cerebral.  That he receives this soul crushing news at a pompous, over the top Disneyland-esque winery, truly illustrates everything that is bad about the wine business in his eyes (read: that it’s successful as he fails).

His book, dense, quasi-meaningful and no doubt esoteric, mirrors the way he likes his wines.  So while the world thinks they are enjoying themselves drinking candy-like vino and reading Dan Brown, he is the true artiste among them.

I thought about this on Saturday, when I was in Napa attending the wedding of Linda’s first cousin, held at Viansa Winery in Sonoma.  That the property is beautiful goes without saying for those that have been there.  That it’s a charming place to  vow everlasting love is irrefutable.  But it was also an example of winery as sales destination.

And the place was PACKED.

We drove up for the rehearsal on Friday to a full parking lot of cars, two big buses and several limos.  Though the fact that the winery is one of the first properties you come upon as you drive from the 101 certainly plays a role, there must be some talented people working in the PR and marketing departments to gather such a crowd on a late afternoon weekday – even a Friday.

The amazing courtyard leads towards the doors to the winery building itself, a sort of antechamber that was pouring some wine.  But the real heart of Viansa is the upstairs tasting room, a bright, high-ceilinged, Wonka-like market selling everything from well, it just sold everything.  Jellies, salad dressings, meat marinades, pie fillings, cold sandwiches, hot sandwiches, sodas, juices, cheese, etc. times infinity.

In short just the kind of place that Miles would hate.  And normally I might too.

But in looking around, all I could see were happy customers.  Happy paying customers.  They bought the jelly, they sampled the wine and from the looks of the boxes they carried out, they loved it too.

The wedding the next day was wonderful, without a hitch from the attentive Viansa staff.   Great food, good wine (I liked the whites better than the reds) but if it was me looking back on my nuptials at the winery, I’d have deemed it an unqualified success.

And it furthered the simple notion that people want to be entertained, which is why theatre goers tend to give every musical they see a standing ovation, why the average LA sports fan will even feel good after watching the Clippers play. It’s all about the experience.

Yes, many people visit Napa to luxuriate in the famed labels that are produced there, love to be wowed by big scores and fancy language that describes the latest vintages, but in this economy, the fact that a “Big Box” like Viansa keeps packing them in, is, in my mind, good news for smaller wineries like us.  For some (not all) of these wine drinkers will take their positive experience and turn that into a love of wine that will eventually lead them to us.

So go ahead, focus group loving, flow chart reading, mass wine producing shops.

If you build it, they will come.

Published in: on June 8, 2009 at 10:34 am  Comments (1)  

The Battle Loyal

One cannot turn on the news, read a paper, or tool around the internet without coming across some dire account of the country’s financial meltdown.  And to be sure, whereas I’m a firm cynic when it comes to the information the media sends our way (if it bleeds, it leads), this crisis is real and it’s hurting all but those for whom money is no object – which reminds me of a great anecdotal story…

An old friend, and by old I mean, I knew him a long time ago but have not seen or heard from him in years, once attended a play his brother was in and spied Steven Spielberg in the audience.  Being an aspiring filmmaker he approached the famed director who was friendly and cordial and they began chatting.  During the conversation Spielberg’s then wife, Amy Irving (that dates this story, huh?) came over and asked her husband for some money to buy a drink.

The director searched his pockets for his wallet, which he had obviously left behind.  But in that little mini pocket in his jeans – what is that pocket really for anyway – he found, crumpled and showing signs of a washing or two, a fifty dollar bill.

It perfectly illustrates those that have to think about money and those that don’t.

My bigger point is addressed in a recent New York Magazine article that describes how the downturn in the economy is affecting NYC’s fancy eateries, best exemplified by empty tables, easier than ever to get reservations or in the worst case, closings and bankruptcy filings.

Sirio Maccioni, the famed restauranteur has been sending messages to his regular customers, hoping they’ll find a night to come in, something they’ve been neglecting as their net worth has presumably plummeted.

We’ve felt this one level beyond Le Cirque’s as less diners for them mean less wine sales, which in turn means our distributors are buying less wine from us (note: we do not sell our wines in Le Cirque, I was just illustrating the point).

But before the media deems all extravagent spending a thing of the past, I’d argue that it’s not the overspending that has hurt us all, but rather the excess on things that did not warrant such large outlays.

Qualifying for a mortgage on a house you can’t afford as opposed to say, having a meal at LeCirque you will remember all your life – and I know this firsthand.  Wasting $50.00 on a bottle of mediocre wine, as opposed to buying a 2005 Bordeaux for $600, the year of your child’s birth that you’ll open with them on their 21st birthday.

Some things are worth the money and people like Maccioni has worked his life to create a one of kind dining experience for all who walk through the door of one of his restaurants.  Many a winemaker has poured their souls into the bottle and that is sometimes reasonably reflected in the price tag.

Yes, things are bad.  They really are.  And you can get a lot of enjoyment in life without spending even one dollar.

But if you are going to reach into your wallet, I say be loyal to those who have come through for you in the past, those who have enhanced your life in ways you couldn’t do for yourself, that hotel, that special restaurant, that wine.

For if we don’t, when the economy finds some stability again – and it will (I’m also an optimist) – those people may have already closed up shop.  And that would be a shame…

Published in: on May 20, 2009 at 12:51 pm  Leave a Comment